Soccer is a funny sport. Trying to understand the different competitions and scenarios teams find themselves is damn-near impossible for those who are solely accustomed to American franchise models.
So when I tell you the Timbers have a match in Frisco, Texas sandwiched between two games against the biggest club in North America, just know that it’s a very unique time to be a Timbers fan. It’s not every day you get to see your club embark on these types of journeys.
- Matchup: Portland Timbers @ FC Dallas
- Location: Totota Park; Frisco, TX, USA
- Broadcast: 5pm PT; FOX 12 Plus (or ESPN+)
No matter how many times Giovanni Savarese says the Timbers are “completely focused on FC Dallas” I still hesitate to believe anything but Mexico City is on the players’ minds.
Forgive me for looking ahead to a midweek date at the most formidable and historic stadium on this continent—one that will typically suffocate players with crowd noise before the smog and 7,200-foot elevation kick in. One where the Hand of God and some guy named Pele once graced the pitch. No, I’m not talking about Toyota Stadium.
A trip to Estadio Azteca will be looming in the back of everyone’s head as the Timbers match up against FC Dallas, and for good reason. Even without fans, it will easily be the most historic venue the club has ever played in.
Club América supporters have not gone unheard, as a raucous performance at Providence Park ensured. The match itself was ferocious as well, with a pair of penalty kicks providing the only scoring in a 1-1 draw for the ages.
Scouting FC Dallas
Unlike their Texan counterparts, FC Dallas roll with a 3-4-3 formation. Their back-three of José Antonio Martinez, Matt Hedges, and Bressan held Colorado to a scoreless draw in Week 1 before conceding three before the hour-mark in San Jose last weekend.
FCD’s two starting lineups have been almost identical, with Tanner Tessman starting (and struggling) in the midfield against the Quakes over Andres Ricuarte. John Nelson has been on the left and Ryan Hollingshead on the right in wingback roles, while Bryan Acosta holds down the middle alongside one of Tessman, Ricuarte, or Paxton Pomykal.
New attackers Jader Obrian and Freddy Vargas flank Designated Player Francisco Jara up top. Don’t forget about 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi, whose late equalizer helped send Portland packing early from the playoffs last year.
Dallas’ only goal this season was a consolation from Ricardo Pepi. They have looked like one of the most disappointing teams of the season through two weeks of MLS, and that’s saying a lot.
What’s more, their starting goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer strained his shoulder and came out after the third goal last Saturday. Backup Grêmio loanee Phelipe (22 years old) logged a save in the last half-hour, but the match was already over by the time he got in.
Rotation, rotation, rotation…
Portland prepared for the first leg by playing a heavily rotated squad against Houston Dynamo FC last Saturday. An early goal from Dairon Asprilla and Cristhian Paredes’ redemptive strike earned Portland a hard-fought three points in that match, and they will seek to do the same against Dallas.
The only players who played full 90s in both of the last two games are Claudio Bravo and Diego Chará. Dairon Asprilla, Larrys Mabiala, Yimmi Chará, Dario Župarić, Diego Valeri, Eryk Williamson, José van Rankin, and Felipe Mora are the other regular starters who played in the Houston match and logged at least 70 minutes against Club América.
For those keeping track, that’s all ten starting field players—not counting Sebastián Blanco and Jeremy Ebobisse, who are both set to make their returns soon. In a press conference Friday, Giovanni Savarese updated the statuses of the two aforementioned:
"Jebo maybe will make this game against Dallas…Seba is getting closer and closer…so we'll see…Andy Polo is back. He will be part of the roster against Dallas." #RCTID
— 𝘋𝘰𝘶𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘗𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘗𝘰𝘥𝘤𝘢𝘴𝘵 (@doublepostpod) April 30, 2021
As you can see, Gio also offered an update on Cristhian Paredes after his nasty-looking injury against his former club. The injury and timeline are not as bad as we might have thought, but it still tests that midfield depth Portland has been touting all offseason.
Andy Polo will finally return to the pitch after being stuck with a tough quarantine timeline coming back from Peru. He has been working with a personal trainer in the meantime, but getting back into the groove with a full squad will be extremely valuable.
Backup left-back Isamaila Jome is out for the season with a torn left Achilles. Jarosław Niezgoda will not make his return until mid-June. In a year where depth was the name of the game, Portland find themselves almost thin in some key spots.
So what will the XI look like in Frisco? Here’s my best shot:
Let’s start with the defense. Župarić is suspended for the second leg because of yellow card accumulation, so he’ll probably go for a full 90 in this one. Bill Tuiloma will have to step up in Dario’s absence Wednesday, so he probably gets a rest. I doubt that we’ll see Bill for more than a few minutes (if at all) on Saturday—meaning it’s time for Zac McGraw to make his first team debut! The 6’4″-205 lb. West Point grad was drafted 68th overall by Portland in the third round of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft.
Van Rankin was billed as a guy who can play on either side of defense, so Bravo will likely get a rest after two tough 90s in the last four days. I would expect the same from Diego Chará except for the fact that he’s Diego Chará. In a recent press conference, Gio said Diego is “capable of managing himself” in terms of output. Also, we don’t exactly have another backup midfielder now that Paredes is out. Maybe Chará or Renzo Zambrano end up splitting time with Eryk Williamson.
Yimmi and Valeri split time at the #10 spot last week, so assuming Blanco is still out that’s what I’ll expect again. Andy Polo should provide a much-needed break for Dairon Asprilla on the left (even if he can only go for a half), while Loría and Bodily will probably start in the same spots they did last weekend. Depending on Ebobisse’s unclear availability, he may start or at least substitute his way into some minutes.
All of this is to say that we don’t know what to expect from the Timbers this weekend. If they can use a rotated squad to beat the team that beat San Jose, then in theory they can beat the team that lost to them.
In terms of how this matchup will make sense tactically, it’s really not worth going over. Portland’s squad rotation may be met with dissatisfaction and rotation from Dallas, as well. So, just like last week, this will be a good ol’ fashioned MLS match, full of unpredictability and zeal.
The Oregon SportsBook has Portland as +235 underdogs, with the home side at +115 and a draw at +255.
Here’s what we do know: Portland will probably be playing a bunch of B-teamers, and Dallas are playing like a B-team (that will also have its B-team ‘keeper).
I’m tempted to throw out a Timbers win, but I really think Dallas will see a rare opportunity to pounce on a depleted squad for points. I’ll go with a 1-1 draw, with Bodily getting his first career goal and Jara opening his 2021 account.
Follow @doublepostpod for total coverage of tonight’s match (and every match!), including our postgame reaction podcast later this evening.
As always, RCTID!